Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge: NBC Sports: June 20, 1:30 PM EDT
A Challenge, And Then Some
Pebble Beach and professional golfers earned the respect of the four contestants in the third annual Challenge
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- If the goal at the start of the day was to break 100, Peggy Ference had lowered the bar of expectations by the time she arrived at the green of the par-3 12th hole. After four hours of grinding on punishing Pebble Beach Golf Links, the first woman to ever compete in the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge was content to relish at least one brief moment in the sun.
After making a putt for her lone par, the pharmaceutical industry sales manager from Skillman, N.J., raised both arms in celebration and gave caddie Corey Pavin a huge hug. As the crowd cheered her on, she proceeded to walk around the green and give all three of her celebrity playing partners and their caddies hugs as well. A Pacific-sized wave of relief had washed over her and she wasn't afraid to show it.
"I was just like, 'At last!'" Ference said. "I was happy to be able to record a par on my scorecard."
Overall, Ference struggled in her attempt to become the first contest winner to break 100 in the three years of the event, which will be televised on NBC prior to the final round of the U.S. Open, June 20. Her score of 118 will go down as the highest yet, but you couldn't tell that from her attitude.
"I have to admit, it was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, but I had an absolutely phenomenal time," said the 51-year-old amateur, who wasn't able to hit a green in regulation.
"This is the culmination of a very exciting three or four months for me," she added. "Every single day just kept getting better and better and better. So this was just a tremendous experience and I was happy to include a lot of my family and friends along the way."
The lone female in the group was hardly the only player having a hard time from the back tees that measured 7,040 yards, in a round that took a shade more than six hours. Actor and producer Mark Wahlberg wound up being the lone golfer to break 100, shooting 97 to claim first place. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky shot 100 and NFL quarterback and reigning Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees, the low handicapper of the group with a 3, faded down the stretch for a 102.
"I hit a lot of bad shots today and a couple of good ones at key moments," said Wahlberg, who reported a handicap in the mid-teens before the Challenge. "For me to be the high handicap and have the low score, you leave with a smile on your face."
Wahlberg made a nine on No. 13, but bounced back to play steady golf for the final five holes, including a finishing par.
"I'm glad I had the guts to do it once, but I'm not dumb enough to do it again," Wahlberg said.
Meanwhile, Gretzky got the 8 that it appeared he needed on the final hole to shoot a fitting score of 99, but when he signed his scorecard, he realized he had in fact shot 100. The NHL's all-time leading scorer didn't let it bother him, though.
"It was a great experience and something that I'll never forget," he said.
Gretzky looked like he would cruise to the win and break 100 in the process, first with a spectacular 3-wood from 230 yards out that found the green on No. 2 to set up a par, and then when he holed out a bunker shot on the signature par-3 seventh hole for a birdie. But he promptly shanked his tee shot on No. 8 and wound up taking a nine, followed by an eight on No. 9.
"It doesn't matter if we shoot 88, 98, 108, we're here for the experience of it and the excitement of it," Gretzky said.
Unlike the other competitors, football obligations kept Brees from playing a practice round and it hurt him early as he tried to advance the ball from the thick rough instead of just getting it back to the fairway. He started putting things together with a par on No. 5, but back-to-back triple bogeys on 13 and 14 derailed him. A wild drive on No. 16 and a three-putt led to an 8 that pretty much ended his chances.
"It just adds to the appreciation you have for pro golfers," Brees said.
A strong wind on the back nine made an extremely hard golf course even tougher, but all the players seemed to agree that more than the greens that were running in the low 12s on the stimpmeter according to USGA's Senior Director of Rules and Competition, Mike Davis, it was the U.S. Open rough that wreaked the most havoc.